Caught up with my friend Ben Issa over lunch today, and the conversation turned to the choices we make while we traverse our career paths.
While we discussed what we had done over the years, the people we had worked with and the successes (and disappointments) we had faced, I mentioned that there were some things I regretted doing in hindsight. Things I had said, decisions I had made, choices I had implemented. Some had a small, almost inconsequential impact at the time but I still remember them as subtly shaping my life, while others looked catastrophic but in the long run eventuated to nothing.
Ben, however, reminded me of a better perspective:
“Don’t regret anything. Just learn from it and move on.”
Regret is a negative emotion. It just holds you back, pulls you down and makes you wallow in the past.
Learning means accepting your mistakes, acknowledging your shortcomings, and internalising the wisdom to not repeat them.
This is, in fact, also what Stephen Covey advocates:
“Stop wasting time regretting what you did a year ago. Start doing what you have to do now, so that in a year’s time you won’t regret what you did today.”
When we’re in the grind, we often lose sight of the most basic principles of success, and rather than learn from our mistakes, we only dwell on them. Sometimes it just takes a meaningful chat with a friend to recalibrate our compass.
Thanks Ben. Always a pleasure talking to you.
I had the lunch hour available, so I took the opportunity to get to the AGSM CBD campus and attend the Learn@Lunch session on Thursday, 24 October. The lecture was titled “Competing in the New Innovation-Driven Global Economy: Opportunities and Challenges for Australia and Asia“, and was delivered by Professor Joseph Cheng.
Dr Cheng is a Professor of Management and the Michael J. Crouch Chair in Innovation in the Australian School of Business at UNSW. He recently arrived in Sydney from Chicago, where he was Professor of International Business and Director of The CIC Center for Advanced Study in International Competitiveness at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The premise of the talk was a rather interesting observation by the McKinsey Global Institute in their June 2012 report titled “Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class“:
“Until 1500, Asia was the center of gravity of the world economy, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the global GDP. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, urbanization and industrialization vaulted Europe and the United States to prominence. We are now observing a decisive shift in the balance back towards Asia – at a speed and on a scale never before witnessed. China’s economic transformation resulting from urbanization is happening at 100 times the scale of the first country in the world to urbanize – the United Kingdom – and at ten times the speed.”
Given this scenario, what are the opportunities available to Australia to successfully compete and remain relevant in the region?
Dr Cheng pointed out that the way forward was economic growth based on innovation rather than efficiency, and spent some time contrasting the two models and providing numerous examples of each. He also distinguished between the different types of innovations that occur, and how organisations have used them to change their industries and gain competitive advantages.
He talked about the competitive advantages available to Australia – such as its strategic geographic location between the growing Asian powerhouses on one side and the emerging economies in the Americas on the other – as well as it being considered a safe and attractive place to live. He also observed some of the challenges it faced, such as being one of the countries that facilitated the on-going patent battles in its courts system and the generally risk-averse national culture, both of which are seen to stifle innovation.
In this context, he suggested that Australia could create competitive differentiation by becoming a centre of innovation, using its location to entice innovative individuals and organisations to establish themselves here, as well as becoming an innovation broker between the two emerging economic powers on either side.
It was a very insightful presentation indeed, and unfortunately I had to dash off back to work and miss the Q&A session which looked like it was going to be quite … vigourous. The AGSM staff indicated that a recording of the session will be available, so I’ll update this post with some links when I get access to it. The McKinsey report is also worth reading, and is freely available on their site.
Some things are worth repeating. I saw this poem, largely credited to Max Ehrman, when I was in my first year of my undergraduate degree. It’s been with me since, and every once in a while I go back and read it for a little reflection.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrman, 1927
Interesting fact: In 2003, the first business leader hosted by the AGSM in the inaugural Meet the CEO event was Richard Branson.
It was somewhat poetic, therefore, that almost exactly a decade later the last Meet the CEO event of 2013 held on Monday featured John Borghetti, CEO of Virgin Airlines.
The stage was set from the beginning. There were a number of immaculately groomed Virgin Airlines stewardesses in their distinctive red livery in addition to the AGSM staff welcoming guests to the evening. They even opened the doors to the hall where the interview took place, and ushered us in with effortless smiles and practiced efficiency. I almost wished we had reserved seats so we could have been directed to them.
Dean of the Australian School of Business Professor Geoffrey Garrett was engaging and humourous as always in his introductions. UNSW Chancellor David Gonski in his welcome was even funnier and had the packed hall laughing out loud. The twist – instead of Dr Garrett chatting to the guest as usual, there was also a guest interviewer. Mark Scott, Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation stepped onto the stage and masterfully conducted the interview.
John discussed the history and challenges faced by the aviation industry in general and specifically in Australia. He also touched on the opportunities and challenges faced by Virgin as part of competing against Qantas and the brand repositioning strategy he implemented after joining Virgin in 2010.
You can watch the video recording of the interview to catch the whole thing, but here are my observations and insights about John’s leadership style from listening to him tell his stories.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
A lot of John’s personality showed through his answers. I’m sure he’s had loads of media training as most people at his level do, but his answers were somewhat less reserved and guarded than the other CEOs I’ve seen interviewed.
For example, he quite happily pointed out that the decline in the Australian resources boom was great, because it meant that mining organisations were now looking for cost efficiencies and open to renegotiating corporate contracts. He then realised that it may have sounded like he was happy about the resource decline in general, and sheepishly clarified that he meant it was great for Virgin Airlines, not necessarily for Australia as a country.
Share your success. There’s plenty to go around.
He talked about and shifted credit away from himself and senior management to front-line staff. Basic leadership recipe, but well executed by publicly acknowledging the importance and achievement of everyone in the organisation.
If you’re in a service industry – like airlines – focus on getting the right people on board (no pun intended).
John pointed out that when you’re flying, you’re basically in a “tube”. The tube is essentially the same regardless of the airline you choose, so the key differentiator is the people who deliver the customer experience.
When asked to elaborate, he said it came down to recruiting well. You have to create and maintain a service culture, and find and attract people with the right customer service attitude and focus. This meant going outside the airline industry to find individuals who were “service people” – whose attitude is based on wanting to please people.
It’s also important to then let those people be themselves, and not beat that attitude out of them.
“Screw it, let’s do it.”
Advice from Richard Branson when faced with rebranding Virgin Airlines Australia differently from the rest of the global Virgin brand. Enough said.
Listen to your front-line staff.
John said that it was impossible for a CEO to “go undercover” and pretend to be a customer. Everyone recognises you and treats you differently – like the CEO. Even if they didn’t, at best you might pick up on some of the challenges faced by front-line staff on the day, and those might not be the most difficult ones they normally face. Rather, spend time talking to them at every opportunity you get, take that feedback on board, and act on it.
Process your email backlog at 3am on Sundays.
Ummm … I might pass on this one for now.
Learn to read people.
John started working in his father’s coffee shop aged 10, and was challenged by him to up-sell to potential customers. It was here that he learnt salesmanship and reading people. He pointed out that this is important because it enables you to understand where they are coming from (empathise with them), which in turn gives you the ability to decide what to do (how to fulfil their needs).
Have a good process to solve problems.
You can’t anticipate all the problems that could potentially arise in an endeavour. However, you know that they will come up, so have a good process to deal with them as they do. Each problem might be different, but having an approach to solving them will go a long way to successfully resolve them.
Work hard and focus on doing a great job.
When asked what advice he had for someone starting off in the airline industry, John responded with the advice he gave his own daughter, not specific to airlines, but for careers in general:
Work hard. Focus on your current job and do it well. You will see other people around you get ahead without working hard. Don’t worry about them. They’ll come crashing down eventually.
Really good advice, and something I’ve personally observed.
Thanks AGSM. Really enjoyed the conversation, and am looking forward to meeting more CEOs next year.
The great thing about a good model is that it is extensible. The Craftsperson model, which can be used for personal or team management, can also be extended and applied to manage a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary group.
The framework can be used in a number of ways, but we’ll discuss a couple here:
- A simple overview of the group structure
- A basis for career transition conversations
Craftspeople Management Framework
As always, it’s best to discuss this with an illustration. Here’s an example of the framework depicting a technology group with multiple teams – although note that it can be used to represent any function within an organisation:
While this might look a little complicated and busy, remember that this fictitious group consists of eight teams and 31 people – a necessarily complex environment.
Let’s talk about some of the elements of the framework in a little more detail, and then pull it all together.
Overall group status
The overall Group Resource Status counter indicates how well the group is staffed. The thresholds at which you may start to get alarmed are unique to you and your organisation, but it provides an easy, at-a-glance understanding of whether a recruitment drive should be considered.
Each column represents a discrete Practice within the group. Practices can be structured in whatever way makes sense to an organisation, but represents a stand-alone area of focus and a fairly standard career path for most people.
This was discussed in some detail in previous posts. Note that Practices don’t necessarily have to mean teams. Teams can consist of individuals from multiple Practices.
Indicates how well an individual Practice is resourced:
Obviously QA needs some attention.
The colour key indicates the status of each stage within a Practice.
Gray – The stage is not required, based on the organisation or group’s current operating environment. For example, in the image above the Master stage in Program / Project Management is at “Not Required”. This could be because there are no major programs running, the program or project management is out-sourced, or perhaps even handled by other functions within the company. Similarly, the Novice stage in Software Development is set to “Not Required”, which could be because of policy to only hire slightly experienced software developers rather than fresh graduates who require lots of management attention.
Green – All is well. Nothing to see here folks. Go back to your desks and carry on.
Orange – There is no great urgency, but a need for one or more resources operating at this level has been identified. This should result in conversations about promoting within the ranks if the skills exist, or starting to engage the appropriate recruitment functions.
Red – Houston, we have a problem. A resource gap exists that is impacting current delivery of initiatives, and needs to be addressed urgently.
The number in the box for each stage. A single number indicates the resource count (or requirement, in the case of orange or red status):
Alternatively, a fraction in a box indicates an existing or upcoming resource gap. Obviously this can only be an orange or red box:
Bringing it all together – The Framework in action
Okay, so let’s pull it all together and discuss a couple of uses of the framework.
Here is the visualisation of the fictitious group again, and the overview we can glean from it:
- This is a reasonably sized group of 31 technologists.
- The group is structured into 7 distinct Practices, along with management.
- The software development function has a large representation, indicating the overall focus of activities within this group.
- There is a gap of 8 resources to get this group to its target operating effectiveness. 4 of these are required urgently.
- The Quality Assurance Practice is significantly under-resourced.
The visualisation of the framework very quickly lets us understand the group structure and focus, as well as its resourcing health.
Career Transition Conversation
Another useful thing about this framework is that it enables conversations about what career paths may be possible. In our example, let’s pick someone from the Service Delivery Practice – say, an Application Support Analyst – who is at the Apprentice level. They realise that they are starting to mature past their current stage, but there are no current positions available at the next level. They also really want to transition into Project Management:
The framework allows a meaningful conversation to take place. If they have demonstrated the appropriate attitude and aptitude, they would be first in line for the Novice Project Manager role when it is vacated, or more likely, a role would be created for them.
Management as a Practice
One final point: note that I have included Management as a Practice. Just like the rest of the (IT) crafts, management requires following a learning path and growing through the stages. It needs clearly defined levels, with behaviours and measurable metrics to determine progress. Getting promoted into management doesn’t mean you’ve made it. It means you’re a novice just getting started.